Tips for Selling in a Crisis

Tips for Selling in a Crisis

Published June 16, 2020

The market has changed rapidly over the last few months, and it will continue to change. Everyone’s asking, “What comes next?” but there aren’t clear answers yet. It’s difficult to prepare to meet challenges when you can’t be sure what those challenges are.

Take selling, for example. Some businesses have decided to stop selling altogether during the crisis. They feel this is the right move, as it can help them lower their own overhead. Others have recognized that their business still has something to offer their clients, even though what those clients needed in January and what they need now is very different, and what they need in the coming months will be different again.

There is one truth in this and it’s that the messaging must change, whether you’re selling right now or working to reopen soon. One of the best things we can do is look to the past for lessons on how to move forward. With this insight, we may be able to anticipate some of the challenges we’ll encounter. We can also examine trends we’re already seeing and use that to inform our actions as we move forward.

Look for Silver Linings in a Crisis

Generally speaking, downturns and recessions are seen as “bad” situations. Yet, there are almost always silver linings, especially for recruiters and talent acquisition professionals.

One of the biggest changes in this crisis has been the influx of talent back into the market, after seeing the talent market tighten up over the past few years. The market had been moving in the candidate’s favor as unemployment trended lower. In turn, it became more difficult to even get people to talk to a recruiter.

Now people who wouldn’t pick up the phone or answer an email six months ago are willing to have conversations. They’re also more open to suggestions. In this market, people have realized they need to be flexible, and they’re willing to entertain solutions they might have dismissed before.

Recruiters have a golden opportunity to create solid relationships with both candidates and clients. There’s a chance here to really distinguish your business and make yourself stand out from the crowd.

Change the Message

Of course, the business messaging needs to change in order to develop these relationships. Your business has changed, and so has your client’s. You can and should keep selling, but it won’t look the same as before.

Staying in touch is key, so you may actually want to increase the volume of contact you have. Reach out to people and ask how they are doing. Discover their needs, and stay attuned to how those needs are changing. Then respond to them.

The key here is positioning yourself as both a supporter and a source of knowledge. Your clients’ HR teams are stressed and dealing with the guilt of having to furlough people or let them go entirely. That’s not an easy thing to do. You might see other options for them, so offer your insights and your expertise. You may also be able to help them crunch numbers and parse market data, so they can see trends and start planning.

You must be cautious about the messaging. People don’t want to be sold to right now, so messages that might have been perfectly acceptable in January could be seen as in poor taste right now.

If you can offer concrete assistance and guidance, people will be more likely to remember you when they need help with recruiting—and they’ll be more likely to turn to someone they already see as a reliable partner.

Get Ready for the Rebound

Chances are that while your clients are hoping for a rebound, they may not be attuned with where and when it’s happening. They don’t want to miss it; in fact, they must anticipate it so they are ready and can get there before their competition.

You can help. Your expertise and knowledge of the larger market can help them see trends they might otherwise miss. Your knowledge of past downturns and even what other clients are seeing and experiencing can help you make more accurate predictions about when your clients will need to be ready.

Watch out for the Talent Shortage

Another hurdle your clients face is a potential talent shortage. Enhanced unemployment benefits may mean some workers are reluctant to return, even if their employer offers them their job back. This was something that happened during the Great Recession, even without additional financial incentive.

In this situation, unemployment financial assistance has been expanded. There’s also the issue of people faced with caregiving, for children who might not be in school or for other relatives in need of extra support. These workers may see unemployment or other financial assistance options as more appealing than a return to work, which could leave employers in the lurch as they try to get back up to full speed.

Again, you can use your expertise and experience to help your clients anticipate this challenge and get ahead of it.

Looking Ahead

Timelines are difficult to pin down right now. Some states are opening back up quickly, while others are slowly lifting stay-at-home orders.

In the next three months or so, most businesses will be focused on recruitment and increasing their selling efforts. This will likely include your staffing firm, especially as you reach out to new prospects and help existing clients adjust to the changing market.

Within the next six months, businesses of all stripes will seek new opportunities and look to diversify. After the six-month mark, those diversification plans will likely be put into action.

Getting ready for this trajectory is tricky. If it takes 60 days to hire, that means you’ll be onboarding in August. Will your client’s businesses be up and running by then? By contrast, you can’t wait too long, or you’ll be behind your competition.

By focusing on relationships, you can mitigate the risks of hiring too soon or not hiring soon enough. Think about contingent offers. You could give anticipated start dates, but make sure they’re non-binding. If there’s still a shelter-in-place in your area, you might want to wait on the letter.


Above all, stay in touch. Communication is key to building relationships. By building the foundations now, you’ll prepare your business to close deals and help your clients find the talent they need when they need it.

Check out our latest webinar with staffing and recruiting expert Tom Erb for more selling insights!